Monday, July 7, 2014

I'd love to change the world

I'd love to change the world
But i don't know what to do
So I'll leave it up to you
- Ten Years After

The middlel of the road
is my private cul-de-sac
  -The Pretenders


       It's extremely frustrating to watch isn't it?   Every day the evidence piles up - serious climate change effects are already here - and only at .08 degrees above pre industrial.   The oil market already at $100 - more than some economies can take -and the Shia Sunni war around the corner?.

       There are ways to ameliorate the situation, but no serious action.  Do the elites notice these things?    Are they able to make changes, but don't choose to?  Have they got their lifeboats?

     Below Richard Hienberg offers some ideas. Top down and bottom up. To top and bottom,  I'd add middle.- (which in way was what I saw this list - 10 years ago.)  Experts well placed to advise the agency heads, and politicians!   

  (For a more detailed look into the forces involved see "Want to change the world? Read this first." ) 

    Heinberg suggests that we need to keep an eye on the whole picture.   Thus  "green technology" - a proposal that would have us living our same consumer ist lifestyles, but powered by wind mills - may be ignoring reality. 

"However, we must also consider the strong likelihood that our looming, inevitable shift away from fossil fuels will entail a substantial reduction in the amount of useful energy available to society. Wind and sunlight are abundant and free, but the technology used to capture energy from these ambient sources is made from nonrenewable minerals and metals. The mining, manufacturing, and transport activities necessary for the production and installation of wind turbines and solar panels currently require oil. It may theoretically be possible to replace oil with electricity from renewables in at least some of these processes, but for the foreseeable future wind and solar technologies can best be thought of as fossil fuel extenders."  

       Its tempting to say " Don't just sit there, do something!  ".   But remember, we have a history of failing to consider the impacts of doing that something.  In the political world its called " blowback".   Things like arming jihadis  in Afghanistan.    

     Another example is the "green revolution" , which created short term food surpluses, but in the longer term increased the size of the hunger problem. We focused on the supply of food, rather than family planning which could have addressed the demand. 

       Heinberg suggests that by focusing on energy supply, and pinning our hopes on a build out of solar and wind,  we may ignoring the real problem which is demand.   We're bound to have less energy in the future, perhaps we should focus on ways to deal with that.

Bottom Up, Top Down

by Richard Heinberg, originally published by  | TODAY

Those of us who have some grasp of the urgent dilemmas posed by climate change and peak oil face a terrible conundrum. The whole system of industrial civilization is moving toward collapse. How can we reverse course to avert an unprecedented series of crises that might entail massive human mortality and the more or less permanent crippling of planetary ecosystems? I can think of two broad strategies:

Top down. Convince the folks in charge that it’s in their interest to change direction—that is, to reorganize financial, food, transport, and manufacturing systems on a no-growth, low-carbon model. Advantage: this audience at least theoretically has the power to organize a comprehensive and rapid energy descent. Recall the rapidity with which the US re-organized its economy at the start of World War II. Disadvantages: the elites’ incentives are all in the current direction of growth-at-any-cost, many of the key players remain in denial about the nature and severity of the fundamental problems facing society, and social systems are structured to eject leaders who rock the boat.

Bottom up. Convince the general public to organize a change in direction from the grassroots. Communities could self-organize to lower energy consumption, create green jobs, and localize their economies. Advantage: this avoids the authoritarianism implicit in the first strategy. Disadvantages: it’s almost impossible to reach all or most of the general public unless you have a huge megaphone (which leads us back to the Top-Down strategy), the general public does not have the capability to quickly restructure large complex systems (finance, manufacturing, transport, etc.), and most people identify their personal interests with those of the collapsing system.

Transition Initiatives are making a valiant effort at a bottom-up strategy. Various prominent environmentalists have pursued a top-down strategy (most recently, PCI Fellow Bill Rees has published an important paper titled “Avoiding Collapse,” a last-ditch effort to awaken global policy makers).

It’s not at all clear that either strategy will succeed. If anyone can think of a third broad strategic approach, there are lots of us who would be keen to know of it.

Meanwhile, the least helpful thing I can think of to do right now is to identify with either the Top Down or the Bottom Up approach and then attack people pursuing the complementary strategy. Of course, tactics within these broad categories are always up for discussion and it’s fair to point out instances of incompetence in the application of tactics. But if we do have a chance at averting the worst forms of societal and ecosystem collapse, that chance probably lies in cooperation among actors pursuing different but complementary strategies.


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